The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360) Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360) Review

When it comes to Role Playing Games (RPG), Bethesda Softworks delivers time and time again.  The Fallout series remains a heavy hitter for the publisher and the Elder Scrolls series of games has a loyal and passionate following.  So it comes as no surprise that fans lined up in droves for midnight launches outside their local gaming store when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hit retail shelves.  It has been a long wait for Elder Scrolls fans, five years to be exact if you do not count a couple of Oblivion expansion packs.  Was it worth the wait?  You better believe it was as Skyrim for the Xbox 360 is a game that is going to eat up every moment of your spare time this holiday season.

Skyrim is a gigantic, and I mean gigantic RPG game.  To say that it is massive is an understatement. You can easily spend over 100-hours playing the game and that is likely without completing all the side-quests or interacting with the endless stream of Non Playing Characters (NPCs).  Skyrim has a main plot, but it also has a huge amount of sub plots.  One interaction with an NPC can easily turn into a mini RPG game in and of itself.  You can spend hours without even touching the main quest.  These instances are not few and far between either.  You will frequently get sidetracked as Skyrim’s massive world is one you will want to explore.  While many side quests in previous RPG games have annoyed me, Skyrim’s quests feature riveting plots and subplots that managed to suck me right in.  Needless to say, you have an endless amount of interaction in Skyrim’s massive world and fans of large RPG’s are absolutely going to love this experience.

Skyrim is strictly a single player affair, so for those looking for some online co-op modes, or even some offline multiplayer, Skyrim is not for you.  As I sit back and reflect on my time with Skyrim I cannot help but think the game might have benefited from an online co-op; however, given the size of the game I am not entirely shocked by this omission.   This is a game for you and you only.  It is a game that is escapism at its very best.  You will jump into the Skyrim world and you might not come out anytime soon.

Skyrim is the fifth instalment in The Elder Scrolls video game series, following The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Skyrim is set 200-years after the events of Oblivion.  The game takes place in the land of Skyrim where a civil war has begun after the assassination of the high king.  The civil war involves the Nord people who call Skyrim their home.  As with many wars, there are two sides in conflict.  The Stormcloaks wish to free themselves from the control of the Empire and govern themselves while the Imperial-loyal Nords wish to keep things as is, and that is under the control of the Empire.

The game starts out with you and a group of other prisoners are on your way to your execution.  Along with this group of Stormcloaks, you have been accused of various crimes.  As you are about to get your head lopped off by a hooded executioner a dragon arrives destroying the small village, and in the process saves your life as your beheading is predictably interrupted.  After a series of events, you learn you are a dragon hunter who after every dragon kill can absorb the souls of dragons and eventually come to learn why these dragons have been running amok.  Without giving much else away, that is the core story of Skyrim.  Of course this story takes a ton of twists and turns, but that is it in a nutshell.  It is certainly a well-told story but I found that it does progress along at snails pace at times.  Yet much of that pace is dictated by your own actions.  As I indicated above, you can easily get immersed in side quests until you snap out of it and realize you have some work ahead of you as you inadvertently abandoned the main storyline.

Despite the game’s many plot and subplot lines, Skyrim focus is on character development is it paramount and something unlike I have seen before.  Much of the character development starts out in the opening character selection screen.  I must have spent 45-minutes selecting and customizing my character before I actually started any of the missions or quests.  You can select one of several human, elven, or zoomorphic human races.  Each has their own natural abilities and traits.  For instance, I spent a significant amount of time just adjusting the depth of my characters brow and the colour of his skin.  Needless to say, I was impressed the amount of options.  Given the amount of time you will spend with your character, Bethesda managed to do a great job ensuring you will be happy with your character and create him or her exactly as you would like.

Once you have selected your character, picked up a few basic weapons, and trudged through the first few combat sequences that introduce you to the games basic controls, you are ready to begin your adventure.  The first thing I noticed after the initial Xbox Achievement was unlocked was how beautiful and sharp looking Skyrim’s world truly is. Simply put, Skyrim is a stunner.  Everything from the clouds in the skies, the incredibly detailed castle-like village structures, to the picturesque Mountain landscapes, Skyrim’s world is wonderfully crafted and stands as arguably the best looking RPG on the Xbox 360 to date.  I was amazed with how good everything looked.  Even the characters looked fantastic and somewhat life-like.  Granted, the game does see some bugs and glitches throughout but this is to be expected given the sheer size of the game;  nevertheless, Skyrim does not get a free pass for some of the issues I encountered.  When you have to go back and replay a couple of hours of a quest due to a glitch you get pretty agitated.  So to that end, I encourage you to save your game and save it frequently.

Skyrim also features some pretty long load times in some instances.  Again, this could be due to the size of the game; nevertheless, I was slightly agitated by these sequences.  There are also some segments in the game where the screen freezes ever so slightly when the autosave kicks in.  Again, it is not a deal breaker but more of a small annoyance.

Regardless, the draw distance in the game is about the best I have seen in a RPG game to date.  For instance, the mountain landscapes and villages located for what seems like several miles away are clearly visible from a long distance.  The level of detail is incredible.  The games dynamic lighting is equally stunning, not to mention the shadow effects are bang on.  The way the trees sway and the water rushes down the some of the streams is wonderfully life-like.  Needless to say, I was impressed with the game’s visuals.

Once you stop to take everything in and you are finally ready to begin your journey, you will likely want to take a quick look at your instruction booklet.  Becoming familiar with the game screen and all the icons is something you will absolutely want to do.  Not to mention, you will also want to become acquainted with the game’s compass and character menu.  The game does not make it obvious where you need to go but if you have a handle on the compass, you will know exactly where to go and you’ll know where your active quest targets are located.

Exploring Skyrim is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game.  You will climb mountain tops, hike forest areas or just troll along on horseback.  You will see Elk trot by and little bunnies dart past you.  It is a world that comes to life and seems real.  Yet you can never become at completely at ease in the game as you never know when a dragon will touch down and attack.  Taking down dragons takes some time and effort but it is certainly rewarding.  But before I get into the dragon slaying that takes place in the game, I should briefly explain the attribute, skills and perk system in the game.

In Skyrim you have 18-skills and under each skill there is a bar that indicates how close you are to increasing that skill.  The more you use that skill, the faster it will increase.  There are three ways to increase your skill in the game.  First, using that skill repeatedly will inevitably increase your skill.  The lower the skill, the faster it increases from use and of course the higher the skill, the longer it takes to increase.  Training another character is also a way you can increase your skills.  You can also pay some characters to increase their skills.  Finally locating skill books is another way to increase your skills.

Skills are divided evenly between your health, magic, and stamina.  When you level up you choose whether to increase one of these three areas.  Skyrim’s level up system is a departure from previous Elder Scroll games in that there is more of an emphasis of naturally levelling up your character, so the class system is gone.

What makes Skyrim such an engaging game is not just the character development, the levelling up system, or storyline, the varied gameplay is also fantastic.  Sure, Skyrim features a great deal of fetch quests where you need to go there, grab this, and bring it back, but these quests are inevitable for RPG games.  Yet, Skyrim mixes up the gameplay by having you solve puzzles, defeat massive dragons, take down hordes or enemies, fending off a pack of giant spiders, or simply tracking down a dog which leads you into another subplot altogether.  You just never know what lurks around the corner and the element of surprise has you coming back for more and more.

On top of the seemingly thousands of NPC’s and quests, Skyrim also features a great deal of hidden weapons and other items you can locate around the world.  Skyrim places a great deal of emphasis on exploration and the game adequately rewards you for your troubles as finding just a simple book can lead to a significant upgrade of your attributes.  Yet exploration will only take you so far as defeating dragons is a critical to the gameplay and your advancement in the game.  After you have taken down a dragon, words appear in the dragons’ tongue.  These words are known as shouts.  Shouts are special combinations of dragon language that produce powerful effects.  By holding down the right bumper you can use an equipped shout.  You can do things like breathe fire on the enemy or slow down time.  These shouts become pivotal in dragon battles and can make all the difference in the world.

While your equipped magic does do a bit of damage, it is nowhere to the extent of the shouts.  Aside from sending out a brief destruction spell or conjuration spell, the magic doesn’t seem to pack as much of a punch as I would have liked.  You can however dual wield weapons which is a blast.  In fact, the combat system in the game feels very smooth.  As you level up your character, your player’s attacks become stronger and do more damage.  The added powers to your attributes are as a result of your perks.

After you gain a level and give one of your main attributes a jolt, you earn a perk.  Perks can increase the damage your weapon dishes out or allows you to perform certain tasks from greater distances.  It is a simple yet effective little perk system that works quite well and gives the game that addictive element.  The games menu system where all the perks, weapons, skill levels and so forth are kept is easily accessible and easy to navigate.  Moving between the quest logs and maps is not such a cumbersome process as it has been in previous Elder Scrolls games.  Simple button presses and flicks with the thumbsticks gets you everywhere you need to go.

On a final note, I should touch on the game’s audio package. For starters, the music in Skyrim is solid and creates a terrific atmosphere.  It does have a tendency to become repetitive now and then, but this is nothing too grating.  The character voices are also spot on and crystal clear.  Other sounds in the game such as the swords clanging, dragons smashing about, crates breaking, and bombs exploding all sound good too and are very effective.

If you only have enough cash for one game this holiday season, and one of the main criteria is that this game has to last you until next holiday season, then The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim for the Xbox 360 should be your game of choice.  Skyrim will suck you right in and you might not come out until you start to grow grey hairs.  Bethesda has once again managed to crank out yet another fantastic open world RPG game with an endless amount of quests and interactivity that is sure to stand the test of time.  While some of the bugs, glitches and load screens will aggravate you at times; the fact remains, Skyrim is a game you should not avoid.

The Good


The Bad